Sunday, 18 March 2018

Loch Katrine Running Festival

I entered the Loch Katrine marathon in January after finding out there were no more places for the half marathon. Mrs Mac also put her name down. Aunt Aggie would have, but there were no crayons to hand.
I have trained very reasonably for the event over the last 2 months, managing myself and trying to ensure there were no heroics that led to injury, with a capital R.

Having heard this weekend’s forecast, however, I was resigned to the event being cancelled.  We travelled up regardless, on Saturday morning after Mrs Mac’s nightshift. The dark destroyer was in tow after her storming 3:04 and first British woman at Barcelona. We then collected Speedy Joe in Glasgow. She’s claiming injury and has been taking it easy after a full-on XC season. Although neither were racing, I was in good company.  They are both doing London.
After setting up camp in Aberfoyle, we ate big on the Saturday night. We woke this morning to snow. Around an inch all told. Strangely, the Facebook page for the event still appeared to be showing no change; The Alloa half was cancelled together with a handful of other races. ‘Surely it couldn’t be still on’, we asked ourselves.  

We piled our gear into the car and set off avoiding the Dukes Pass and drove via Callender. The event HQ was up and running at 8:30am when we arrived having picked our way through the snowy lanes of Kilmahog. Everything was green for go, even though everything was actually white with snow. There was a good inch of fresh powdery snow on the road along the loch.
With a wind chill of around minus 8, there was, not for the first time, much discussion about the choice of footwear and how many layers to wear.  About 60 runners set off for the marathon including me and Missus mac. I had checked with the organisers beforehand that, in the event of me getting too cold and copping out, I could cut the event short and do the half, 13 miles, rather than the 26.  Fine, they said. No problem.
I had opted for the Salomons on snowy tarmac, but was fairly sure I definitely didn’t want to run 26 miles on tarmac in them. The soles of my Nike Lunars, however, were as flat as the UK economy and useless for snow running. 
Running for the first few miles with a huge tailwind blowing me west, I overheated badly. I was sitting around 5th or 6th just after mile 6, when I spied the turnaround marker for the half marathon and as soon as you could say ‘that’ll do nicely’ I had implemented a swift no-nonsense volte-face and was soon heading back into the wind and snow flurries. As I ran on my own along the single track that wound its way through the woods all I could think of was '....good weather for the judderman'. Long slender icicles on the rocks. snow flurries. Occasional ravens, cawing. desolate. Beware the judderman, my dear, when the moon is fat. ......I was woken out of my hypothermic stupor by the half marathon and 10k runners who had set off half an hour later than the marathon runners. A small stampede of folk coming at me from all angles. I got plenty of ‘well dones’. ‘What on earth do people think I’ve achieved’ I wondered; the only runner from the marathon group to bail out and retreat like Napoleon being chased by the Cossacks.
I arrived back at HQ in 1:34 which was perfectly fine and explained myself to the perplexed marshalls. They recorded the time and I got a hat, medal and tea-cake. The 2 young athletes had a good jog around the place and we enjoyed a lunch of hot soup at the pier café. Mrs Mac returned some good while later and we had a good chat about this low key but very popular event in the Forth Inn after a wash and warm up.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Big Freeze

Everything has ground to a halt. The town is like a ghost town.
Not a Special in sight.

I was a little sceptical at the weekend about the forecasts of doom regarding the weather we were to expect during the week. However, for once, they've been right on the money.

It was already freezing cold on Saturday evening.  I know that because Virgin invited us off the warm train at Alnmouth. We had to alight in order to catch a connection. It was 8pm. We had been up Edinburgh getting some scrambled egg at the City Café and some culture at the Lyceum. A treat. It was no treat when we found out that the station was closed. Dark. Brooding. Polar. Ice Station Zebra without Rock Hudson. Six of us were stranded without sanctuary and without fur lined parkas; banished to hide away in alcoves, competing with the pigeons. Crouching behind cars to keep out of the penetrating and biting wind. I half expected to see John Carpenters 'The Thing' scuttle from under a vehicle. 'That'll teach me to go and see Jacobean Theatre' I mused. In the olden days, I imagine we would have waited, sitting by a real fire on chairs of green velvet, tired upholstery. The bespectacled, grey haired station-master would have offered us tea in china cups and a rich tea, maybe some shortie.  I can just see Will Hay and his side-kick fussing round us.

Anyway, I digress. Sunday was fine. But the snow arrived right on schedule two nights ago and it hasn't stopped since. Aunt Aggies been out 'trapping' and insists on hanging her wet furs over the radiator. She came back late last night with two kinder eggs.  She said they were free range.

Yesterday at lunchtime, I slid my feet into plastic bags and strapped on the Salomons. I was chomping at the bit for a run in the snow and had a stop-start run with the camera through the woods at lunchtime between the snow showers (although, I realise, that I said earlier that it hadn't stopped...cut me some slack). The sun came out and I had a wee sweat on tramping through the fresh scrunchy snow. Beautiful.  That Panasonic weighs a tonne though.

However, this mornings meteorological offerings were rather more hostile. I stood at the window and shook my head a few times for a good hour before Aunt Aggie finally let me in. Seriously, I was geared up and out the door into blizzard conditions for 5 miles, first thing. The traffic was sparse and crawling. Several drivers gave me a thumbs up for sheer stupidity.

I've spent the rest of the day watching the snow creep higher and higher up the steps. I was back out again tonight for an hour as the light failed and another dark icy night blew in from east. Mrs Mac is stranded at work and covering for others tonight.

I have postponed both the appointments I had tomorrow, but the forecast for next week is still pants. On the plus side, however, I feel another snowy run coming on in the morning assuming I can physically get out the door. Much as the draw of the snow is irresistible, the mid-range forecast is not good at all and I feel the need to stock up on kindling, cous cous and grapefruits, currently my food fads; obviously not the kindling. I've noticed my appetite mushrooms when the snow arrives.

All the races including the cross country have been cancelled this weekend. So it'll be me, Phillip K. Dick's 'Man in the High Castle' and my copy of Steven Wilsons CD 'To The Bone' which is fab and the sort of music you buy and just stick on repeat play; just like old times.  I might even watch a Will Hay film, maybe 'Oh Mr Porter'. Can you believe that was made in 1937?!         

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

'The Time Machine'

I hatched a plan on Monday night after failing to summon up the energy or application to get a Monday run in during the day.

I would do double the distance on Tuesday. But how would I avoid ducking out? I would accompany Missus Mac on the six thirty dawn bus to Newcastle and run back home. I felt fine after my 15 miles on Sunday and I've clocked out a steady 50 mile week for the last month. Another 14 today would be good.

There’s not a big field in the Loch Katrine Marathon. It’s in March and only for charity, probably not even a measured course; but I would like to drop in a sub 3:20 if possible. Evidently, the weather will have a big influence but I reckon that, given that I have been injury and niggle free for a couple of months now, it’s not too ambitious a plan.  As I watched the news this morning, I realised that a southerly wind was forecast with snow on the way. I stepped out the door in the dark. It was two degrees. brrr.

When the bus arrived, I committed; I made the £5 investment and bought the ticket. Contactless. We live in changing times. We were off.

Missus Mac got off at her stop and I was left to watch the red and purple hues of the dawn horizon take on a brighter but greyer look. The cars kept coming; all those on their daily pilgrimage to ‘the office’. I thought computers and the internet were supposed to do away with the rush hour. 

Getting off the bus in Central Newcastle, I took a leaf out of the strategy of fellow bloggers and went for a coffee. It was a two pound small Americano. By 7:45 I was fizzing. I plugged in the orchestral earplugs, zipped up the bum bag and took off along the pavement from the café at Eldon Gardens and got into my stride. It was cold and grey. But I was immediately aware of a big, blousy southerly behind me and blowing me along. I was running north. 15 minutes later, as I ran through the deserted Exhibition Park, the home of the 'Toons weekly Parkrun, the moor-hens and mallards were picking through the ice in the pond. They looked bored already.  They were in for another bleak day.

I was welcomed into Gosforth along the Great North Road by Simple Minds and I was aware I was getting a bit ahead of myself, but the tailwind was irresistible.  Mark Knofler was invoking the memory of Elvis through the High Street and by North Seaton, 40 minutes and 6 miles into my run, I was cooking. I stopped to dispense with the wind jacket.  By Wideopen (8 miles) the wind had dropped and the weather front moved in, dusting the wet road with a carnival of sleety flakes and then cold, steely rain. Stannington came and went, a few crisp brown leaves and the clouds of my exhaled breath preceding me and confirming that I still had a tailwind. But I was fading at 11 miles and, given that there was nothing riding on the morning’s efforts, I stopped by the A1 and fished out a green gel. Yummy! The viscous and sickly fluid vaguely resembled apple something and I drained the pallid liquor. Two miles to go. Grace came on the ipod and I was slave to the rhythm for the next mile. How come they can fit in a stadium sound into a piece of metal the size of a box of matches? My running had become ragged and I was tired, but I was home by 9:30am.

Galvanised by my efforts, I spent the next few hours tidying the house in preparation for the arrival of the plumber. Royalty. An air lock somewhere in the system resulting in a cold bedroom and bathroom. When I come back next time, some-one remind me to sign up for plumbing. 'Name your price' stuff.

Aunt Aggie checked herself out of her care home last week and is back in the potting shed, knitting doilies. She doesn’t like 'being with the old folk' she says. 'Its dull watching the birds' she says. Who can blame her? But life is moving on. Time just keeps passing. She says unless you're Rod Taylor, you can’t slow time. So, instead, you need to do memorable stuff; stuff like today. I’m inclined to agree with the wizened but loveable old bat. I shared a pot of tea with her. I told her about my next 'point to point' test before Loch Katrine. I have an idea to do 'Consett to Newcastle' along the old wagonway; It’s all downhill. Nice Plan. She just nodded and said ‘amaideach'. That care home has a lot to answer for. She couldn't speak the gaelic before she went. But that's St Kilda for you.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Devils Burden: Lost in the Woods

I arrived at 10am in Falkland and stalked around the Fife village looking for a parking space. The first priority is to find a suitable slot, a spot that doesn’t leave your rear end poking out into the street or impinge on some grumpy residents drive. I drove down the south end and found a space outside a weary looking semi. With some curtains still closed and the residents, no doubt, still cosy in bed, I grabbed my woolly hat and donned my 'silver' Salomons. They are described as silver in the adverts, but have always looked grey and abit on the drab side in my eyes. They are looking decidedly dog-eared now. I stole out of the estate and jogged down to the Hall. It was busy, but not overly so. In the backroom of the hall a few buddies were sat buttering the largest pile of deformed morning rolls I had ever witnessed.  The huge vats of soup couldn’t be far away.

Some weeks previously, I gleaned that the Hawks were struggling for runners to make up teams for the Devils Burdens Relays and I threw my woolly hat into the ring. This event is the January season club-opener in the hill running calendar.  A tasty come as you please event for teams of six runners.  The weather is always a factor and, today, there was a gloomy blanket of murk around the hills. Squally.  

There are two solo legs and two legs for pairs. It attracts most clubs in Scotland. This year there were 150 teams. That’s 600 athletes on a Saturday morning converging on a village with little in the way of transport links.  Plenty cars. There are two waves at the start; the oldies, some female and some mixed teams go first at 9:20am: then the younger faster striplings set off at 10:30am.

The Hawks ‘A’ squad (‘A’ in the loosest sense) had set off at 9:20am and were in the Over 40’s category. I was running the last leg. Eager as I was I wandered around the hall looking for a silver bag which had my number in it and after the 3rd revolution and staring at various chair legs, I found it, to my relief.  I pinned the number on and, pulling my beanie over my forehead, left the hall and jogged through the town to the woods where the start of leg 4 was.

It had been suggested that my leg 3 duo would be coming by at around 11-11:30am. I jogged up on a woodland track through Maspie Den. Other than a few dog walkers there was no one around. Not an ounce of lycra, not a studmark or whiff of wintergreen. I continued up the track. As I came out of the trees, I was passed by a young bloke. A quick conversation confirmed that he was on leg 4 as well. I jogged a mile with him and was nearly dropped in the process. As he began to move ahead I tried to clarify if the start was up where we were jogging to; ‘No’ he said, ‘its back down there through the woods’ gesticulating with his thumb over his shoulder. I then realised he was a leg 4 runner from the second wave and was out doing some reconnaissance.  

I high tailed it back down to the start and still there was no-one there. No voices, no red tape. Nought. By this time my garmin read ‘4 miles’. I had a sweat on. This was no good at all. Not being able to determine the starting point for an event that involves, to some degree, map reading skills, was less than convincing.

I phoned Dave H. He was back in the hall after running leg 1. He suggested he might have been a bit off with the times and thought 12-12:30pm was a bit more realistic. He advocated a return to the hall. I duly ran back and chatted for 20 minutes before returning to the start, by which time some officials and a handful of leg 4 shufflers were congregating. I chatted with a couple of Falkland Trail runners who suggested that the Hawks were ‘well up’. I hoped not. Didn’t fancy the pressure. However, it was nearer 12:40pm when the lads rounded the trees and I got my hands on the cardboard control punchcard needed for the last 3 checkpoints. 

My 5.5km route with 400m of ascent would take me up one side of East Lomond and straight back down the other side.  I had kept my orange wind jacket on as I ran. It was very mild for January, but the jacket is thin and I thought there might be a wind chill up on top. I passed a woman runner quickly and then ate up a Westerland runner as we came up to my first checkpoint. This is always good for morale.  The sweat driven, rain soaked exertions of my  team-mates had resulted in the erasure of most of the checkpoint  numbers on the card. It was beginning to resemble a soggy papier-mache affair. It was pot luck which square I clicked.

I left the shelter of the trees and caught a 3rd runner half way up East Lomond. I thanked my stars I had my jacket on as a burly, rugged westerly blew me up the steep slope. However, at the top I could see the Trig point but no flag with the punch.  There were no marshalls present. I struggled to remain standing. Bent hard into the wind, I looked around the top for the checkpoint. Chris Russell, running for the Las Vegas Club (the fife branch) appeared about 20 seconds later and went straight to a shallow hollow below the Trig point and was off like a shot. Realising where it was, I punched my card and took off after him. The steep descent took 12 minutes, 2 minutes longer than the ascent as we combated deep tussocky grass and moss. As we descended the wind rescinded and I reached him on the lower slopes just as the first runner from the 2nd Wave, a Westerlands runner, screeched past, bee-lining for the last checkpoint. Momentarily, I was right up with Russell, but the Vegas runner had other ideas along the final half mile of track that led back to Falkland and he put a good few seconds into me as I felt the residue of the ghost of Christmas Pasta weighing heavily on my normally mercurial quads and calves; but before you could say ‘calorie controlled diet’ , I turned the corner and there, in front of me, was the finish line. Just a touch under 37 minutes, but a better descent and less gormless wandering at the top of the hill might have got us an extra place. Next time, eh?              

Monday, 15 January 2018

Edinburgh XC Festival

We made an appearance at Holyrood Park in Edinburgh on Saturday. Speedy Joe was selected for the West of Scotland after a very buoyant cross country season. She's no doubt hoping to improve on her 29th place at the Nationals next Month. We were in attendance as supporters and general hangers on.

The Inter-District race is one within the Great North running festival where there are some international racers in their crisp new matching tracksuits and shoe bags. The organisers encourage people to pay a 'robust' sum to run round a 5k course in the park. I dare say, no doubt, that all the marshalling and organisation costs money.

Step away from the roped enclosure please
We appeared at the top end of the park from our car parked somewhere across from the now absent Velodrome at Meadowbank; (where's it gone?-what a sad waste of money; all that Malaysian hardwood). We watched a little incredulous at all the bouncing about as the fitness instructor whipped up the 'joe public and some club runners' crowd to warm them up. The music was thumping. A high decibel experience and no mistake. As long as they were enjoying themselves!

We eventually met up with Cat at 10am. She was complaining of an 'underlying cold'. Not sure what this malady is; I said 'if she had a cold I wouldn't shout at her, if she was lurgy free, however,  I would be giving her pelters if she was slacking around the 6k course'.

Nothing to see here
The Inter-District race started at 10:40am and after the daft fast start, it settled down. There were 3 districts, representing the north, east and west of Scotland. Surely there should be a south as well? There were also guest teams from Scottish Students and the North of England. The latter were made up largely from athletes from Leeds and Manchester we were advised. We parked ourselves up on the hill where the athletes double back on themselves and where there are 2 water crossings.
I had my new Panasonic Lumix and nipped into the inner enclosure for a few shots. An older bloke sidled up to me and hovered on my shoulder for abit. I thought he was checking my bald patch or admiring my eighties shoulder pads. However, I was gently asked to leave the 'special area' after he made it clear it was only for 'authorised people'. Given my own self importance, I advised him equally gently as I peered through the view-finder that I'd only be there a couple of minutes. No one wanted any unpleasantness. In fairness, it was unlikely, but some of these folk can be a wee bitty jobsworth. I heard later from Missus Mac that two other spectators were having a good grumble about my taking of enclosure liberties. They had cameras also, but evidently not the brass-neckery to breach the confines of the inner sanctum. FFS is all I can say. Must be getting a bit dangerous in my dotage. Next time I'll bring Aunt Aggie. That'll shake things up abit.
The youngster finished mid table and somehow scraped a silver earn medal as 6th counter, so we were all happy (well, nearly all!!).  I was then for clearing off after the event, but the other half felt she wanted to watch the relay and international cross country. Being less keen to watch the 'stars and starlets', I jogged back to the car and got my trainers on and managed a steady 7 miles with a couple of laps up the hill and around the back of the park. We took off for a light snack up the Royal Mile afterwards and then it was the drive home. I was quite keen to see how the photos turned out and certainly I felt its a much more versatile camera than the other digital slr that we have; so there will be no excuse to hold back on taking a few shots at the various events that we attend. The Flickr site is still up at this link:

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Escape from the Rattling kingdom of Phlegm

I've, at last, yanked myself free from the sputumous stranglehold of the rattling kingdom of Phlegm that is the flu ridden erse-end of 2017. The nasal passageways are clear. The trainers have been dusted off and I even gave myself a 20 mile treat on Sunday with an solo ultra- run in fine crisp conditions. It took 2hrs, 30 minutes which puts me in 3:20 shape for March's marathon.
I was in Beadnall today, just down the coast from Seahouses and the forbidding, historical ramparts of Bamburgh Castle. It was a quick visit and the thought of a run up the coast along the sand had entered my mind. However, I had no gloves and didn't fancy taking on the slicing bitter north easterly which was blowing in from the Scandinavian snow caps of Bergen.

The sky was gloomy, grey and doleful. Spitting. No matter. 'I am made of sterner stuff' I told myself as I drove to Seahouses and parked up; with the heater on (I might add). Across the bare, wet sand whipped tarmac was a shop that sells tat, but this includes a range of cheap gloves and on exiting the bazaar and having paid my £2.99, I was good to go. I strapped on the garmin and it was a slow 3 miles northward to Bamburgh. The cloud was low and the sea angry and green. The breakers had 'no mercy' tattooed on their knuckles; the Farne Islands sat shivering under a dark blue and heavy sky. I pulled my hat down further over my ears and ploughed on. I felt the ipod was shuffling up some apposite tunes; Boston, Tears for Fears...god forbid I actually got out of the 80's. Katy Perry kept trying to get in, but she was cut off at the pass; in the first few bars, in her prime;

The Salomons failed predictably to cope with the slippy wet limestone outcrops that peppered the beach, but I remained upright.  The edge of the water was frothing as it ebbed and flowed and the golden sand fresh and firm underfoot. Other than a few dog walkers it was deserted. Occasional screeches of gulls and parcels of oyster-catchers stood their ground as I persevered into the wind, stopping for the odd photo. There's a whole range of collective nouns for bird species and I fancy I will bring in a further few into future blogs (after all, who can resist a 'conventicle' of magpies, a 'wisdom' of owls or a 'fecoffski' of hopping ravens). 
I checked my watch and realised that I would be pushing it to get back to the car before the ticket ran out, so it was up and off the beach, and back around the imposing castle walls with the whispering gargled voice of Æthelfrith in one ear. It was just the sort of day that he would be laid up, sitting by a fire, swigging ale from a wooden tumbler and polishing his helmet.
The road back from Bamburgh to Seahouses is flat and runs parallel to the coast and with the tailwind behind me, I clocked 3 sub seven minute miles as I high tailed it back to Seahouses, just as the Council van pulled into the car park. The thought of trying to do 6 minute mile-ing is as close to it as I get these days.
 I stopped at Lidl coming home for some mince and tonight its Mince and Tatties. I like it with loads of pepper, but don't tell Auntie Aggie that. I enjoy watching her cough uncontrollably as the innocuous seasoning ambushes her halfway through her dinner. Ahh, simple pleasures!

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Bronchial Tubeway Army

It’s early on a Hogmanay morning. We are about to kiss goodbye to 2017. It’s been an interesting year. It seems to me that time continues to accelerate.  To Infinity and beyond. The calendar seems intent on racing toward 2020.  I’m wondering if I’ll manage to shoehorn in a few events and make any meaningful inroads into my own personal bucket list, not that I have one.  Terrible phrase. Society and politics are all over the place. Maybe I should apply for an Irish passport.   
I was given a pressie at Christmas of a day out at a sportive entitled the Tour De Peak, a 60 mile romp around the best inclinations Derbyshire has to offer.  That’s in May. I also fancy the Loch Katrine half and might venture further afield for off road events. I notice comments on gender etc in the entry blurb for Katrine. Not seen that before. But seems the half is full already, so might be the full 26 miles. Better value anyway!
I’ve watched a pile of tele. over this past few days; and it has been a pile. That's not really from choice. I’ve been laid up in bed for 3 days with a cold. Some people call it manflu. I had a sore throat on Boxing Day as we wandered along the snowy ridge at Simonside for a walk. The next day my nose was tripping me and I retired with Vicks, a box of tissues and the tv remote controller. This is, however, a quality cold. It’s a big, ballsy virus who has moved in and wants to make itself at home. It's brought all its mates. It’s not welcome. Not welcome at all.

With the frequency of colds in recent months, I have considered beginning a list of colds, giving them names, like they do with storms. This one would be called a *u&8#in t$”* of a cold. I am now an exhausted and bored invalid. By day three I might have been attracted to snorting the lemsip powder like it was a wrap, rather than mixing it into a steamy tincture if I thought it would improve the efficacy of the supposed remedy. Mrs Mac actually questioned whether stopping in bed was the best option. She postulated that it might indulge the virus, making the effects worse.  I don’t think so, however. Blidy cheek. My sick bed does not represent the Waldorf for germs, well at least not that I’m aware.  The room service is too poor for a start. The amount of clagg I’m producing would be more than enough to wallpaper the bedroom and still have some left to fill half the potholes in the county. I wonder if the highways agency might hire me. The BBC might cover it; certainly regional news should. I feel I should get Vera in to investigate.  Maybe make an appearance as a B celebratory or get grilled by Kirsty Wark on a late show.

If the 11k is on tomorrow (he said listening to the blustery wind outside) I will find myself on camera duty. As a result, I have been boning up between coughs, grockles and splutters, on how to use the Nikon. I do miss the Panasonic, however. I’m not really a fan of twiddling exposure settings and twisting dials. Not a camera anorak. I think I need a longer lense. I hope the lights good. I hope I remember to remove the lense cap.
I have also read the Marie Kondo book on tidying up so there could be some changes when I manage to get out of this snot ridden hell hole. I have made some serious inroads into Mrs Craddock. I should finish the novel off today. I have watched any number of films, but this morning I have happened upon Sooty and another kids programme called BottomKnocker Street. I bet you didn’t know such programmes existed.  One was lamer than the other, but not by much. If I was subjected to these with any regularity I would want to comfort eat as well.  Today is day 5 of the effin cold (needs to be said in a big brother accent). Al is still in bed as dawn breaks. The others are still asleep. The snow has gone outside and its time for a cuppa.  Perhaps I will put the radio on and turn the google box off for a bit.  Dino and Dina has just started. Guff.  Am I VERY grumpy?